BPCR BROKEN SHELL OR SEPARATED CASE EXTRACTORS By Wayne McLerran
If you subscribe to the Shooting Sports USA, NRA’s competitive shooting journal, you should be familiar with a monthly article titled “WHAT’S IN YOU RANGE BAG”, listing the items well-know competitors across the shooting sports have on hand to address issues during a match. The list may include common items such as aspirin, cleaning suppliers, hearing protection, replacement parts, a few tools, energy bars, etc. Most of the BPCR shooters I know use a range box instead of a bag. In an attempt to deal with an array of problems the range box is filled with all manner of stuff. The one item that many forget to include is a broken shell extractor, aka split case extractor, separated case extractor or ruptured case extractor. See my related article titled, Case Stretching & Separating in Black Powder Cartridge Rifles. You may never need a separated case extractor but when you do they’re indispensible, possibly allowing you to continue the match.
Separated case extractors have been available since the late 19th century around the time breech-loading brass-cased cartridges were developed. Modern extractors are made for many cartridges by several manufacturers such as UTG/Leapers, Mauser, Marbles, FN, Hakim and others. But none of the current manufacturers I’m aware of make ones for common straight-wall BPCR cartridges cases. An ECHO brand extractor made to handle .45-70 case head separations was sold by Buffalo Arms Co. (BACO) and Brownells but is no longer available since W. J. Riebe the company that produced the extractor went out of business a few years ago. Brownells currently sells extractor, but I don’t know who makes them and none are for common BPCR cartridges. The photo below displays the two vintage extractors made by Springfield Armory for the Trapdoor (TD) .45-70 rifles which are still available today from some gun parts suppliers such as Numrich Gun Part Corp. and on eBay.
Most if not all of the modern extractors are designed to handle case-head or neck separations that do not extend into the bore. The extractor is inserted into the breach, fully chambered and extracted as one would a cartridge, hopefully catching on the mouth or lip of the case and pulling out the broken section as the extractor is extracted. Modern extractors are typically made for cartridges with shoulders and assume that if the case separates, it’s usually just forward of the rim or head where the thick web section transitions to the thin case wall. Due to the case shoulder the broken case cannot move an appreciable distance down the bore. Here’s a Brownells’ YouTube video on the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6JFot8KCbM
Although straight wall BPCR cases can certainly experience case-head separations, the case can also separate in the neck region just behind or at the base of the seated bullet and the separated section pulled some distance down the bore by the bullet. Therefore the extractor must be designed to reach the broken section. The Springfield TD extractors were designed to be forced into the breach past the mouth or lip of the broken section or, if necessary, inserted into the muzzle end of the barrel, then pushed towards and out of the breach with a cleaning rod, hopefully catching the broken section in the process. By the way, the Springfield 1882 extractor is a 2-piece design. The bottom knurled section unscrews from the longer 3-prong section and is used to aid in removing the separated case. The outer design of the extractor is made to match the 3-groove bore of a Springfield TD rifle and as such will not work in modern .45-70 rifle bores.
I keep a Springfield Type 1 .45-70 extractors in my range box. I was unable find a .40 caliber extractor so I made a couple out of .38 Special brass (.357 Mag. brass should also work). Turn the rim diameter down slightly on a lathe, or belt sander if you don’t have a lathe, to about 0.002” smaller than the bore diameter, so that the case can be inserted into the muzzle end of the bore head first. Push the modified case down the bore with a cleaning rod until it contacts the lip of the separated case. Drive out the extractor and separated case with the cleaning rod. No doubt this technique can be used for other cartridge cases and bore diameters.
Depending on the situation, another technique that may work as well or better than a separated case extractor is to use a short bronze bore brush slightly larger than the bore diameter. First determining how far down the bore the split portion of the case is located. With the brush screwed into a cleaning rod, push the brush from the breech down the bore so that it’s position inside the remaining case and then yank back on the cleaning rod. The bristles should lock into the inside of the separated case and it pull it out. Enterprising shooters and gunsmiths have used many methods to remove stubborn separated cases. One of the most common utilizes melted Cerrosafe, the same material used for making chamber casts. But none lend themselves well to fixing the problem during matches. So do yourself and/or your shooting buddies a favor and add a case extractor or appropriate size bronze bore brush to your shooting box.